A possible Conservative leadership candidate is drawing swift condemnation from top Tories, including others who hope to lead the party, for comments disparaging the LGBTQ community.
Richard Décarie, a largely unknown former political aide to Stephen Harper while he was in opposition, is attempting to carve out a niche as the social conservative standard-bearer in the race to replace Andrew Scheer as Tory leader.
In an interview with CTV’s “Power Play” Wednesday, Décarie said he would “defund abortion” and continues to oppose same-sex marriage, a position he said is shared by the “real people” he meets.
“We are all mixed up, our kids are mixed up,” he claimed.
Host Evan Solomon reminded Décarie that LGBTQ Canadians are “real people,” too.
“I think LGBTQ is a Liberal term,” Décarie responded. “I don’t talk about people that way.”
Asked if he thinks being gay is a choice, Décarie said that he does.
“I think it’s a choice and how people are behaving is one thing. I think government has a responsibility to encourage the traditional values that we have had for the past years,” he said.
“That’s the kind of so-con issues that I would bring as a leader.”
CTV shared a clip of that exchange on Twitter:
Eric Duncan, a rookie Ontario MP who is also the first openly gay member of the Conservative caucus, was among the first to weigh in.
“Hi Mr. Décarie, I don’t know you at all. But I’m a proud new Conservative MP from rural Eastern Ontario. We should probably chat about my life ‘choices,’” he tweeted.
Former Tory minister Peter MacKay, who has declared his intention to run for Conservative leader and is widely considered a top-tier candidate, also blasted the remarks.
Being gay is not a choice and nobody should be running for office on a platform to roll back hard-won rights. https://t.co/EtUm7StRoI— Peter MacKay (@PeterMacKay) January 23, 2020
Another leadership aspirant, Ontario MP Marilyn Gladu, took to Twitter to call the comments “unacceptable” and reaffirmed a pledge to “stand up for the rights and freedoms of every Canadian.”
This statement is ridiculous. The Conservative Party of Canada is open to ALL Canadians. Our membership made it clear when we voted to recognize same-sex marriage. https://t.co/f6pYCtyXGJ— Erin O'Toole (@ErinOTooleMP) January 23, 2020
The comments are as unacceptable as they are ignorant. You do not speak for Conservatives—or for Canadians. Being gay is NOT a choice. Being ignorant is. https://t.co/7zWLwQbQOH— Pierre Poilievre (@PierrePoilievre) January 23, 2020
Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who was a leading voice behind the push in 2016 for the party to scrap a policy opposing marriage equality, said she would not serve under the leadership of anyone who believes sexuality is something to be fixed.
“I am full on tired of this type of shit defining the conservative movement in Canada,” she tweeted. “Giddyup, you’re going to have to go through me.”
HuffPost Canada has reached out to Décarie for comment and will update this story if he responds.
The controversy is bubbling up months after a federal election campaign that saw Scheer pressed about his social conservative views and voting record. Scheer was asked about his refusal to walk in Pride parades and earlier opposition to same-sex marriage, including a 2005 speech where he compared recognizing gay marriage to calling a dog’s tail a leg. Scheer pledged to respect the rights of all Canadians as prime minister.
Watch: Andrew Scheer announces he’ll step down as Tory leader
An external review of the Conservative campaign has been completed by former senior minister John Baird. The party has maintained the report will not be released publicly.
But according to CTV News, a portion of the report touched on how opposition to LGBTQ rights is a path to defeat.
“One positive result of the otherwise dispiriting federal election is that it confirmed large majority support for LGBTQ rights,” the report reads, according to CTV News. “A political leader who considers gay families less worthy of respect or is visibly uncomfortable with marriage equality is now an electoral liability no party can afford.”
With a file from The Canadian Press
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.